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Recent years have seen growing public debate on future constitutional options for the island of Ireland, north and south. There are strongly held views on whether this debate is necessary or useful at this time. However, given that public discourse has already begun on these issues, the questions they raise cannot be avoided.

In looking to the future of the island of Ireland, there are many ‘known unknowns’. At the moment, it is far from certain that a referendum on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will be triggered, let alone what its outcome would be. What can be widely agreed, however, is that holding a referendum in the absence of prior research and informed debate on the options and their consequences would be a disaster. Regardless of their preferences, policymakers and the public in both jurisdictions should be well informed.

To meet this need, we have launched a project of evidence-based research and analysis on the most significant questions of policy and public debate relating to options for future of the island of Ireland, north and south.

Who are we?

The ARINS project is a research collaboration between the Keough-Naughton Institute of the University of Notre Dame and the Royal Irish Academy (RIA).Through this partnership, we hope to plan, support and communicate a wide-ranging programme of rigorous, non-partisan and independent research about the future of the island of Ireland. The ARINS project welcomes and commissions research from a wide range of scholars in all relevant disciplines. In publishing and publicising that research, we seek to support respectful debate among politicians, within the media and civil society, and among the general public.

The initial programme of research has been set out set out in an editorial in the RIA journal Irish Studies in International Affairs and continues to publish an open access volume of ARINS research papers per year. At ARINS, we prioritize nuanced dialogue within and between academic institutions, civil society, and relevant stakeholders. In every instance, we seek to accompany published articles with responses and then follow these responses with a short reply from the original author. Given the gravity of such debates, we often publish more than one article on a topic.

We recognise the sensitivities around the very process of conducting such research. However, we believe that the need to ensure all eventualities are anticipated and ensuing debate is informed takes primacy. The ARINS project does not intend to advance any one particular discourse surrounding future options for the island of Ireland. Instead, its sole purpose is to offer a space for informed discussion and debate, that allows all stakeholders the necessary information to move forward with.

We have grouped our programme of research into three broad areas:

Political, constitutional and legal

Issues to be researched may include: changes in demographics, political organisation and public opinion in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, including in the context of Brexit; the conditions under which referendums on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland might be triggered, the preparation of such referendums and the implementation of their results; the comparative international experience of state unification/reunification; possible future models for the island of Ireland, including federal, confederal, and unitary state models, as well as the maintenance of the current constitutional and institutional situation; the implications of each model for the institutions of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, for the protection of human rights, for policing and security, for international relations, and for future relations with the United Kingdom and its component parts.

Economic, financial, social and environmental

Issues to be researched may include: the economic impact of Brexit; divergences and commonalities in social, economic and environmental policy, North and South; existing cooperation and

interdependencies in the all-island economy and in the social and environmental sectors (including public, private and voluntary sectors); the impact of the UK subvention of Northern Ireland and the factors determining its future evolution; the implications of climate change for the island and for all-island cooperation; the impact of constitutional change (under various models) on the economy, on the organisation of the civil and public service, and on economic, financial, social and environmental policy and service provision; in the absence of constitutional change, the future development of north-south cooperation in these areas; the measurement and modelling of wellbeing in both jurisdictions and under different constitutional and economic scenarios.

Cultural and educational

Issues to be researched may include: how the diverse identities and traditions on the island are understood, felt, expressed and promoted, and how they are perceived and understood by those of other traditions; divergences and commonalities in cultural and educational provision and participation, north and south (where culture is understood to include sport); existing cross-border cultural and educational cooperation and exchange; the implications of constitutional change (under various models) for culture and education, particularly with a view to the protection of the diversity of identities and traditions on the island, and to the development of their mutual understanding.


ARINS will assist in supporting projects through a combination of joint research grant applications, support from the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, the Royal Irish Academy and a consortium of industry partners. Read about related projects here.